Skullcandy Vert review: Wireless buds for the mountain
“The Skullcandy Vert are easy to use on the mountain, but their sound quality isn't at its peak.”
- Easy to use with gloved hands
- Solid battery life
- Great Bluetooth range
- Average sound quality
- May not fit everyone comfortably
Thanks to Apple’s AirPods and its army of imitators (as well as genuine competitors), true wireless earbuds are everywhere. Compact and convenient, they make perfect gym companions and make daily commutes a bit more enjoyable. Yet there’s still places where they don’t make sense. Small, finicky, and fragile, they can’t stand up to extreme sports.
Whatever the occasion, gloved hands and true wireless earbuds aren’t a match in audio heaven. That’s why Skullcandy developed the $80 Vert. It’s a set of wireless (but not true wireless) earbuds that are tethered to an oversized, glove-friendly control module, giving you access to your tunes, calls, and voice assistant, all without risking frostbite.
Short but sweet
The Skullcandy Vert has an unusually short wire that tethers the earbuds to the combo battery/Bluetooth module/control dial. At just 20 inches from end to end, it’s less than half as long as a set of Apple EarPods. This means you won’t be able to clip the controller to anything further away than your shoulders.
Skullcandy says the controller is best placed on your goggle strap, the top of a jacket or shirt, or perhaps aboard a backpack shoulder strap. Those are convenient locations, but I wish the big round controller acted as retractable housing for some additional cord. It’d offer more flexibility.
Also included is a MicroUSB cord for charging and the optional Fit Fins, which provide a more secure fit than the earbuds can offer alone.
One size fits most
While most modern earbuds use a true in-ear design coupled with a range of ear tip sizes to accommodate different kinds of ears, the Vert is pod-style, designed to sit in the small pocket of cartilage just outside your ear canal. If you’ve never had a problem with Apple’s EarPods or AirPods, you should find them comfortable even for long sessions. However, some people just won’t be able to find a good fit.
Dial up some tunes
To pair the Vert with your phone, hold the controller’s single big button until the small LED on the side starts to flash. Pick the Vert from your phone’s list of available Bluetooth devices, and you’re good to go.
The controller is a breeze to use. Completely intuitive after only a few seconds, the spring-loaded jog wheel provides an easy way to change volume (twist forward or back) and skip tracks (twist and hold), while the big central button lets you play/pause or answer/end calls with just a tap, or activate your preferred voice assistant with two taps.
As winter hasn’t arrived, I simulated what it would be like to use the Vert while skiing or snowboarding by donning both gloves and mitts to see how each felt with the controller. They both work fine, and I had no problem engaging each one of the functions.
Curiously the gloves proved slightly easier for using the jog-dial, while mitts were easier when using the central button.
While targeted at skiing and snowboarding, the Vert’s design could be useful for anyone who often wears gloves.
The Vert can pump out volume, but lacks clarity. The midrange and low-end tend to get muddied, and on some tracks, I even noticed some distortion. The question is, will you care?
The Vert are not intended for critical listening, and I’d argue top-notch sound quality would be wasted when carving up your local terrain park or tackling a steep descent on a mountain bike.
Nonetheless, at $80, I think the Vert should sound better than Apple’s EarPods. They don’t.
Built into the bottom of the buds are small air ducts that let some outside sounds in. Skullcandy calls this a “stay-aware” design. It’s meant to ensure you don’t become so lost in your tunes that you can’t hear important audible cues from the rest of the world that might signal impending danger.
The ports very effectively eliminate the cotton-balls-in-your-ears feeling associated with regular earbuds when the music is paused. You can carry on a conversation without feeling the need to yank out an earbud. However, I didn’t notice much difference when tunes were playing.
Lost and found
Should you ever lose your Vert earbuds, you can use the included Tile tracker function to locate them. Much like other Tile trackers, you’ll need the Tile app on your phone, and a free Tile account. After adding the Vert as a trackable item in the app, you’ll be able to see the Vert’s last known location on a map.
If you happen to be within Bluetooth range of them, you can make them emit a loud, high-pitched chirping sound. But be warned — you don’t want to do this while the earbuds are in your ears. It’s painful.
Will you be able to hear them if they’re buried under a few inches of snow? I can’t answer that, but I can tell you it was easy enough to hear them when lodged between couch cushions. Your real-world mileage may vary.
Battery and Bluetooth
Skullcandy promises the Vert will deliver 10 hours of continuous use on a full charge. At medium volume I think that’s pretty accurate, but any louder and you can expect that number to drop to nine or less. If you enable the Tile tracker function, it could go down further.
Even nine hours is more than enough time to enjoy a full day of activity with the Vert. If you do run out of juice, a 10-minute rapid charge will give you an additional two hours.
Indoors, the Vert’s Bluetooth 5.0 radio is sufficient for roaming up to 100 feet. My wife used them at our local indoor ice rink and found she could leave her phone on the bench and stay connected no matter how far away she skated. Like most Bluetooth devices, it struggles when faced with multi-story homes. Bluetooth does not deal well with walls. floors and other obstacles.
Outside, the range is excellent. Depending on your phone, you may be able to get as far as 400 feet before noticing any dropouts. Of course, given that the Vert is meant to accompany you on your wildest outdoor adventures, its range will rarely be a limiting factor.
While the $80 Skullcandy Vert won’t please audiophiles, they are easy to control even when wearing gloves. Not everyone will find the earbuds comfortable, but for those who do, the Vert make a great companion on the mountain.
Is there a better alternative?
You’ll find plenty of wireless headphones and earbuds, and some are tough enough to survive wet conditions. Of these, many offer better audio performance than the Vert. However, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a set of wireless earbuds — whether true wireless or not — that have the Vert’s ease-of-use when using bare fingers is simply not an option.
Want more options? Check out our favorite earbuds of 2019.
How long will they last?
The Skullcandy Vert come with a two-year manufacturer’s warranty. It can be hard to predict the longevity of wireless earbuds and headphones, mostly due to the on-board rechargeable battery. Apple’s AirPods, for instance, have been known to lose much of their battery life after less than two years. You’ll need to take care when you clipping the controller to clothing or a backpack that you don’t forget about it. The Vert’s wires seem reasonably robust, but I doubt they’ll withstand a lot of sudden yanking.
Should you buy them?
Not unless you frequently ski or snowboard and need earbuds specific to that use. The Skullcandy Vert are easy to handle with gloves on, which makes them unique, but poor audio quality holds them back.
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